Herald American

New program helps Bellflower schools reduce suspensions

BELLFLOWER — Student suspensions in the Bellflower Unified School District were reduced by 85 percent in just one year after the district implemented a new discipline system that emphasizes rewards for positive behavior and guides students toward correcting disruptive habits.

Suspension days plunging from 3,245 to 483 in 2015-16 after the district began its positive behavioral interventions and supports discipline system now in play in districts across the nation. The system is rolled out over three years to ensure educators at every level are comfortable with the changing philosophy.

The 2015-16 school year was the third year of the Bellflower rollout and the first year of full implementation.

According to district officials, the result has been rising attendance, improved school climates and a stronger focus by students on academics.

“This kind of a result is a real testament to how committed our teachers and school administrators are to following the precepts of [the system],” Superintendent Brian Jacobs said. “This is a massive change in how we operate and can only result from a lot of hard work and dedication.”

Bellflower leaders say the effort benefited from two aspects of the district’s approach. First, the system was not implemented from the top down. Teams of teachers representing every grade at each school mapped which behaviors would merit office referrals, in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions, and which ones could be handled with counseling or other approaches.

The unified approach ensured the program was applied consistently and in keeping with the discipline that teachers require in their classrooms for all students.

The second factor was the innovative move to add elementary school counselors in the 2015-16 school year. Counselors have provided students with tools for dealing with anger, conflict and other social challenges that can lead to behavioral issues. Individual and group counseling give students a chance to speak about those issues.

Elements of the system can be seen throughout the district. At each campus, slogans based on school mascots help remind children of their responsibility to themselves, to their classmates and to show pride in their campus.

“It’s not just how you behave in the classroom,” said Tracy McSparren, assistant superintendent for special education and student support. “In fact, sharing expectations for behavior across the campus — in the hallways, at recess, on the playground and in the cafeteria — has been a major factor in reducing our suspension numbers.”

For example, at the Intensive Learning Center, where the mascot is the Eagles, students are constantly reminded to SOAR — Show kindness, Own your behavior, Act responsibly and be Ready to learn. The slogan even adorns basketball backboards — an idea put forward by the students. Students caught SOARing receive a GOTCHA, or entry into a drawing for prizes.

At Bellflower Middle and High School, where the mascot is the Buccaneers, students memorize the message behind their motto of BUC PRIDE during homeroom at the start of the year — Positivity Respect Integrity Dedication Excellence.

McSparren said the district continues to monitor and refine its discipline strategies, relying on feedback from teachers and school staff about the effectiveness of different discipline interventions. The district is also exploring a new aspect of discipline called restorative justice, which asks students to take responsibility for behaviors, such as apologizing to classmates for disrupting a lesson.